Warner Brothers continues to honor Bette Davis, one of the most successful and accomplished actresses Hollywood has ever known, with a second collection of films that demonstrates her range and versatility. The set features three well-known films, two lesser-known gems making their first appearance on DVD, and a biography made for Turner Classic Movies.
Davis was nominated a total of ten times and won two Oscars, the name of which she claimed to have bestowed on the statuette while serving as the first female President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was also one of the first women to stand up to the studio system. After she, in essence, went on strike to obtain better roles, Warner Brothers sued her. She lost that battle, but won the war because she got the results she wanted.
The first film she did upon her return was Marked Woman, a story ripped from the headlines and based on the trial of Lucky Luciano and the prostitutes who testified against him. In the film, Davis plays Mary Dwight, a prostitute who testifies against a crime boss. Humphrey Bogart, in one his rare appearances as a good guy in the 1930s, plays the prosecutor.
Attempting to cash in on the excitement over MGM’s Gone With the Wind, Warner Bros found its own Antebellum love story with an adaptation of the play Jezebel. Davis won her second Academy Award for her portrayal of Julie, a young woman from New Orleans who pushes her fiancé, played by Henry Fonda, away with her headstrong ways. The film had a great crew behind the scenes with director William Wyler, with whom Davis had an affair at the time, and screenwriter John Huston, brought in at Wyler’s request. However, the greatest work on the film is by cinematographer Ernest Haller. His use of camera and lighting are marvelous to behold. Film historian Jeannine Basinger provides a great commentary track that reveals background on the film’s creation and also breaks down the film’s elements. Our Gang fans should keep an eye out for Stymie Beard.
The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942) is a well-written comedic gem, which is no surprise since George S Kaufman and Moss Hart wrote the stage play and Julius J. and Phillip G. Epstein wrote the screenplay. Reprising his role from Broadway, Monty Woolley plays Sheridan Whiteside, loosely based on Alexander Woollcott, critic for The New Yorker and member of the Algonquin Round Table, who, while laid up in a house due to an injury, disrupts the lives of everyone in it. In one of her few comedic roles Bette Davis plays a supporting role as Woolley’s secretary.
Available for the first time on home video, Old Acquaintance is a story about the highs and lows of a 20-year friendship between two women, who are jealous of what the other has. While completely unfair to the film, what makes it most intriguing is watching it with the knowledge that Davis and Miriam Hopkins hated each other because Davis slept with Hopkins’ husband. The commentary track is a conversation between Bette Davis Speaks author Boze Hadleigh and the film’s director Vincent Sherman, who lets us know that he was another of Bette’s conquests. It is great to hear an obscure journeyman director take part and get his due. He has awesome tales to tell.
The four DVDs above all contain featurettes about their respective films, although the documentary about Old Acquaintance talks equally about the film and the changing role of women in the industry in the ‘40s. Warner Brothers wanted to give the feeling of what the movie experience used to be like while also cleaning out some clutter from their vaults. Three discs contain cartoons, but other than Porky Pig’s, they are forgettable. On The Man Who, a song-and-dance short is mislabeled as a cartoon. There’s a musical short featuring Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra; an unfunny comedy short, “So You Think You Need Glasses,” written by future director of Green Acres Richard L. Bare; and a short called “Stars on Horseback” that follows blacksmith George Garfield as he comes to the aid of stars like Joel McCrea, Bette Davis, Olivia DeHavilland, and Jerry Colona in order to help with their horses.
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? gets the deluxe treatment with so many extras they needed a second DVD. It might not be considered a horror film in the classic sense, but I find the film scarier than magical monsters and killing machines because the circumstances are completely believable as crippled Joan Crawford is at the mercy of her jealous sister Davis, whose performance earned her tenth nomination. It is wonderful to see the actresses dive in to the parts. The story combines elements of Psycho and Sunset Boulevard.
The extras included place Warner Brothers in the same class as the standard bearer of DVDs, The Criterion Collection. There are three documentaries about the actresses, including a BBC interview titled “A Film Profile: Joan Crawford," and “All About Bette,” a biography about Davis narrated by Jodie Foster. The best part is the inclusion of Davis’ bloopers; and “Bette and Joan: Blind Ambition” that shows the similar personalities and biographies of the women though Davis incorrectly said they had nothing in common.
“Behind the Scenes with Baby Jane” is a promotional clip that focuses on director Robert Aldrich and the crew. From The Andy Williams Show is a clip of Davis singing “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?” that aired on 12/20/62. The oddest extra is the commentary track by Charles Busch and John Epperson, two well-known drag queens with the latter known as Lypsinka. They are writers and performers, but don’t have much more insight into the film than any other fans having a good time watching it would. It’s not worth listening to.
Stardust: The Bette Davis Story, narrated by Susan Sarandon, is a thorough biography that details her amazing life using clips of Davis from films and television programs as well as interviews by Gena Rowlands, James Woods, Davis’ adopted son Michael Merrill and others.
The Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2 is a great set of films that showcases a talented actress at work and a great set of DVDs that enhances the viewing experience. Perfect for the fan of classic Hollywood.